Rape-and-Run Logging

Orly Mercado

Posted on April 3, 2007

The new victims

It is ohanami or cherry blossom viewing time in Japan. The climate is mild. The Rokko Mountains here in Kobe may not be as colorful as in autumn, but the trees are verdant once more.

I stop by an antique shop. A mahogany wooden door catches my attention. I run my palm on its smooth surface, admiring the grain. “The wood is imported,” the saleslady says. “From the Philippines?” I ask.

“We used to get a lot of beautiful wood from the Philippines before,” she affirmed. I smile wryly. I know a few things about logging in my home country. More than two decades ago, when I was advocating a total commercial logging ban, I used to cite the discrepancy between the official records of how much timber the Philippines exports and how much timber Japan claims it imports.

Greed and a failed selective logging policy have left so many communities living under the threat of landslides, flash floods, erosion and sediment runoff. Here in Japan, use of wood products for construction, furniture, paper or chopsticks amidst well-preserved forests removes one from the reality of these threats.

In only a few decades the Philippines’ rainforests have been decimated by rape-and-run logging. But we are yesterday’s victim. Logging still continues, although it is more of a mopping-up effort to make the last buck.

Today, empowered and agitated communities are more vigilant. They are now the last hope of preserving whatever is left of nature’s gifts. Jared Diamond, in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Collapse, says that because local people are desperate for cash, and government officials can often be bribed, “rape-and-run-logging will continue to be good business until the companies start to run out of unlogged countries, and until governments and local landowners are prepared to refuse permission and to muster superior force in order to resist unpermitted logging backed by force.”

Diamond’s fascinating book also shows how deforestation was a major factor in the collapse of societies in the past. Today’s rape victims are countries like Indonesia, Burma or Vietnam.

China, the economic powerhouse that it is, now plays a critical role. Its appetite for wood is voracious. The construction frenzy has created a huge market for timber and wood products. It has also become a transshipment point for certain banned species of timber from Indonesia.

As a result, exotic species of timber may end up like the Philippine mahogany. A rarity one can now find only in antique shops.

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